One morning last week, senior officers from the Israel Air Force’s Air Defense
Division gathered in Tel Aviv for a discussion about missile defense plans for
the coming year. The planned joint drill with the United States was brought up
and the meeting ended with the participants under the impression that it was
still on schedule for April 2012.
That was on Thursday.RELATED:US EUCOM: Missile drill will take place later this year
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morning, the IAF was informed that the drill had been canceled following a
series of discussions between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and top Pentagon
The IAF was taken by surprise. It had been planning the joint
exercise with the US European Command (EUCOM) for the past two years. It was
supposed to be the largest ever missile defense drill for the two
As a possible war with Iran looms on the horizon, canceling a
missile defense drill meant to reassure Israel and instill confidence in
Jerusalem was quite shocking.
Add to this that just a month ago a top
EUCOM general visited Israel to finalize plans for the exercise, and a month
before that US Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro
had hailed the drill as a demonstration of the Obama administration’s commitment
to Israel’s security.
Due to the sensitivity of the issue, it was
difficult on Sunday to get a clear explanation from the IDF or the Defense
Ministry for the reasons behind the decision to cancel the drill. (There is a
possibility it will still be held, but in late 2012.) The reason given by some
defense officials – that Israel asked to cancel the exercise due to cuts in the
defense budget – was ridiculous since the drill was to be almost fully funded by
the United States.
Another explanation – that US defense cuts were the
reason – was also strange since in an election year, the last thing US President
Barack Obama needs is to be perceived as abandoning Israel’s security.
is not inconceivable that Israel asked to cancel the exercise because it might
be planning something vis-a-vis Iran for the spring and does not want to get the US
tangled up in what will evolve.
Another possibility is that Israel is not
planning anything but wants the US to think it is – basically another step in
the “hold me back” strategy.
Either way, the cancellation is convenient
for both Israel and the US, which are currently focused on stopping Iran’s
nuclear program. As reported in the Wall Street Journal
over the weekend, the US
is also bolstering defenses around facilities in the Middle East. Deploying
missile defense systems in Israel could take away from those
Either way, Israel is more focused on getting the US to ratchet
up diplomacy and sanctions against Iran. Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon expressed
the government’s disappointment on Sunday in a radio interview saying that
“election-year considerations” were stopping Obama from imposing tougher
sanctions that could stop Iran.
Despite the disappointment, coordination
between the two sides is at a high level. Obama spoke last Thursday with Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about Iran, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny
Gantz will meet later this week with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen.
Martin Dempsey in Brussels, and again in Tel Aviv.
Like almost everything
in the Middle East these days, the missile defense drill was meant to send a
message, mainly that the US has Israel’s back. That is likely still the case.
The Iranians are now left to wonder about the significance